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Looking for Santa Monica: On the Beach:

This is the final installment in the Mirror’s “take a hike” series that has explored different neighborhoods throughout Santa Monica. Part Six: the Beach Day, time and place of walk. Every morning, before daybreak, I go for a run along the water’s edge, from south of Ocean Park Boulevard to north of the Pier, then back along the boardwalk. Tell us what you liked/disliked about walking in this area. For me (and many other residents), the beach is Santa Monica. Some mornings it is absolute perfection — just me, the shorebirds and, now and then, a surfer or another runner. If I time it right, there are no encounters with the rattling, fume-spewing beach-cleaning machines. In the summer, when the sun rises earlier (or if I sleep later), I pace my steps to keep up with the dolphins dancing their way to breakfast. On those days when the fog is at its thickest, the silence is absolute, save for the sound of the waves tiptoeing ashore. Storms bring another kind of beauty to the beach, swelling the sea and turning up the volume on its concerto. Storms also bring obstacles. The ocean heaves back all the litter and debris that beach visitors thoughtlessly discard. And there’s the toxic tide that flows from the Pico storm drain, creating an impassable river of oil, sludge, garbage, and the occasional dead animal. On those days, I stick to the boardwalk. What has been your impression of driving and parking in this area? Fortunately, I don’t have to park in this area, but I’ve seen the lines of cars that jam the streets on hot summer weekends and Pier concert nights. What were people doing in this area and did it impact your experience? On the beach, I’m usually alone. On my return trip, via the boardwalk, I see many of the same people each day: folks walking their dogs, City crews scouring the public restrooms, lifeguards arriving for work, personal trainers and their clients working out at Muscle Beach, homeless residents congregating near the Pier. And there’s the man (I call him “the preacher”) wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase who recites his prayers – loudly and with great fervor – at the edge of the sand just as the sun is rising. Do you like the activities available in the neighborhood? An hour spent on a quiet beach is far cheaper than therapy and a good deal more effective. Are there any other activities or services that you would like to see in the neighborhood? Beaches are (and should be) a place where people make their own activities. Walking, jogging, swimming, surfing, gazing — this is enough. Sand and water are the only “services” a beach needs. What is your impression of the buildings in the area? The beachfront skyline is a distraction rather than an enhancement. Just imagine the sea to the west and a forest of palm trees to the east. The buildings are probably there to stay, and some of them should (like Casa del Mar). But if the occasion arises, future development should be restricted to low-slung, low-key bungalows, not impersonal, high-rise clunkers. What was unique about the area? I have walked along the seashores of every state on the US perimeter and every continent but Australia — even barefoot in the pebbly volcanic sands of Antarctica. Each has its own personality, shaped by Nature. Santa Monica is less rugged than some, and more accommodating than many. Every morning here is different: the tide line, the position of the moon at dawn, the angle of the diving pelicans. What did you like or dislike about this area? I value the endless possibilities of the beach: solitude, relaxation, family outings, collecting seashells, discovering wondrous marine life, building castles in the sand, surfing. I loathe the callous disrespect on the part of humans that chokes the ocean and the shore with debris. And I’m not overly fond of the sand-sweeping behemoths that ply the shoreline in the early hours (especially the one that, when it emerges out of the fog, looks disturbingly like the apocalyptic horseman that torments Robin Williams’ character in The Fisher King). Tell us how you imagine this area to be in 20 years. One morning in November, the fog was so solid that it obscured the familiar parade of planes waiting to land at LAX. The pier’s perpetually illuminated Ferris wheel was equally invisible. As I approached, I slowed down to avoid stumbling over the tangles of seaweed that collect between the pilings. I had gone maybe 10 feet under the pier when the sands to my left began to shift. At first I supposed it was a trick of the tides, but as it began to rise, I thought I was about to be mugged. Suddenly the looming shape let out a wild and raucous roar. It was a huge sea lion, bellowing a warning. “This is my turf,” it seemed to say. “Don’t mess with it.” Beaches are pretty much perfect in their natural state. They don’t need buildings, “artwork” or 20-year plans. All they need is stewardship. If the City is looking for a vision for the beach, it should heed the sea lion.

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